SORREL DOWNER

Journalist, film producer, and media consultant, mixing it up for TV, online, newspapers and magazines. I cover travel & tourism, lifestyle, and design. Mainly. This is the HQ for previous work, and an introduction to current projects. I work all over the world and live on a farm in Cadiz which I write about at www.somewheresville.org.

COSTA RICA: PUERTO VIEJO

I love the laid-back stretch of Costa Rican Caribbean coast south from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo. The beaches are gorgeous, the food is fresh and fusion, it’s backed by pure jungle, and it couldn’t be easier to get around.

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Obviously the beaches are gorgeous. There are surfy ones, gentle ones, party ones and peaceful ones. Hard to choose, but I do love it round Punta Uva.

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It’s easy to get nostalgic for the days when every eatery looked like a packing crate, and the standard fare was nothing fancy beans and rice and fresh fish, but Koki Beach has racheted up the standards, added variety, and not deviated too far from the Robinson Crusoe washed-up-on-beach feel, by creating a top place out of recycled bits from an old wooden house – but done it with style.

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And it’s really pretty. There’s plenty of choice when it comes to where to eat, but here’s best for evening people-watching. Don’t forget to check out the sodas. Up and down the coast road, and in Puerto Viejo itself, you’ll see signs to Miss someone’s soda pointing off down a track. These offer the best home-cooking to order.

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I’m a big hammock fan. Rocking J’s is a bit, ahem, convivial for me, but the concept is truly inspired, and the location couldn’t be better if you’re a surfer. More isolated hammocks are strung up and down the coast.

Screen shot 2015-12-01 at 19.24.09 This community has always been quite apart from anywhere else in Costa Rica. For decades it was a real Caribbean enclave, boofing to the sound of reggae, every restaurant serving rice, beans and lobster, every second person a fisherman. Read Paula Palmer’s What Happen. It’s still unlike elsewhere in Costa Rica, but it’s now well-mixed home to people from all over the world, many of them, clearly, with a naif arty streak.

Screen shot 2015-12-01 at 19.23.50 Street stalls sell everything from batik sarongs to those ubiquitous leather thongs. Save your colones for local bread and chocolate, and pancake and tropical fruit breakfasts every day.

Screen shot 2015-12-01 at 19.23.04 Just south of Puerto Viejo, it’s easy to find quieter beaches for swimming and reading. Stay at Costa Rica Tree House, and you can just wander through the undergrowth to one of the best. La Costa de Papito is another great spot for access to a top stretch of sea.

Screen shot 2015-12-01 at 19.23.28 If you’re not driving, and fancy something a bit more comfortable than the standard buses, the tourist bus, Interbus, is super-useful for getting from San José to any hotel along this coast. Once you’re here, the standard form of transport is the bicycle – available to rent cheaply by the day from just about everywhere.

Screen shot 2015-12-01 at 19.25.12 For travelling further afield, there are boats. The ATEC office in town has information on boat tours. You can even head on to Panama via Manzanillo.

Screen shot 2015-12-01 at 19.24.54It may be scruffy and mashed together in parts, but there’s much on offer here, such as the steamy sea air, the white sand, the friendly people, the sandy road, monkeys, hibiscus, balmy temperatures, and little bars lit by fairy lights, that are simply luxurious, and there are few places on the planet more relaxing!

In the holiday guide in The Guardian I recommend a few places to eat and stay, but there’s plenty of choice for every budget.
PHOTOS: Andres Madrigal, my old pal at Costa Rica Traveler.

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